Less than 24 hours ago I was watching my son take a lightsaber lesson at the Jedi Fighting Academy with one of the cast of the Phantom Menace. And then a couple of hours later he got to ask David Prowse, the actor who plays Darth Vader, “did you get hot in your suit?”, using a microphone in front of a crowd of people. When you’re 7 years old, that’s as good as it gets isn’t it?
As my son as he was getting dressed for school this morning he was singing the theme to Chime, his favourite song from his new favourite band Orbital. I asked him what he thought of the festival. He said,
“I loved the science the best. I loved the music. I loved the lovely drinks. I loved the playground and I loved the nice people at Bluedot”. So there you have it out of the mouth of a 7 year old little boy. What he loved most of all at Bluedot was the science.
At Bluedot the scientists are the stars as well as the musicians. The man serving the food at the Tibetan food stall asked every customer, “are you are a scientist?” The greatest star of the show is the majestic Jodrell Bank space telescope, which towers over the entire festival site. It sets the scene to be inspired…that by embracing science we can understand more about who we are and what exists beyond us. The festival takes its’ name from Carl Sagan’s famous Blue Dot speech:
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us”.
Bluedot is a celebration of knowledge, wonder, exploration, beauty and life in all its forms.
The very first thing we did was put on a virtual reality headset which enabled us to walk around and climb inside the Lovell Telescope. From that point onwards we knew we were going to have an exciting time.
There were lots of free workshops that my son could take in, including programming a robot to make it rap and dance, piercing a balloon with kebab sticks, learning about waves using slinkys and stroking a pet robot dog. We got to chat to people about Antarctic exploration and look at a tent that was used for survival at the South Pole.
There were regular shows in the Planetarium, some of which were designed for younger children. We had planned to watch one on Saturday afternoon, but because it was so hot the organisers had to close it to keep the children safe.
On the Planet Field there were eco-friendly activities, including making pledges to care for the planet, Guerilla Archeaology, making beautiful fairy wings out of willow branches and experiments to learn more about your senses. My son was overjoyed when he threw a ball into a basket wearing a pair of 3D goggles.
Some of the activities had a cost (soldering and making a bag with an electrical circuit, both £7) but the vast majority were free.
There were regular science talks on the Star Field which my son really enjoyed. The lecture theatre was also air conditioned, which was a welcome relief from the heat of the sun. He watched and was able to participate in talks about neuroscience, where he played the important role of a nerve cell trying to catch neurotransmitters (ping pong balls), a bubble show and a brilliant talk from the Eden Project about their space mission. Have you ever wondered what astronauts do when they need the loo? The answer involves a “poover”!
We also enjoyed watching a very entertaining show based in an adapted garden shed about an astronaut who develops his own space agency (UMSA).
For adults there were separate lecture theatres and marquees with talks from eminent scientists. These were very popular and we saw queues of people waiting to watch the talks.
On Saturday morning we listened to Tony Walsh give a rousing rendition of his ode to Manchester, “This is the Place” as well as other poems that made my hairs stand on end. Professor Tim O’Brien, Astrophysicist and Associate Director of Jodrell Bank also gave a talk on the main stage on Sunday afternoon. Funnily enough we had been chatting to him and photobombing his picture the night before at Orbital!
One of the highlights for my son (and his father) was the Jedi Training Academy on Sunday morning, where he got to learn the moves and practice battles under the direction of a stunt artist from the Phantom Menace.
One slight grumble I had was that I had to get up at 8am on Saturday to join a queue of weary parents who were waiting outside the information point near to the main arena. There were only 48 places for the weekend, which I think could have easily been doubled. You also had to do the same for stargazing which quickly sold out.
There was a small playground in the Discovery Area Galaxy Garden, a wooded area which also provided relief if it became too hot- did I mention it was HOT! and there was a picnic bench for parents.
Next to the playground, babies and toddlers were well catered for with a baby feeding and nappy changing area, courtesy of the East Cheshire branch of the NCT.
On Friday night, my son asked to stay up late so he could go to the “Outer Space”; an area close to the play area where he could explore a variety of art installations which included hugging huge blue glowing balls which vibrate, several exciting looking fire installations and some strange silver metal structures which looked like alien spacecraft.
The music was amazing. There was a varied line up with some excellent headliners; Orbital, the Pixies, Goldfrapp and Alt-J. My son loved dancing to Doctor Who with a glow stick around his neck and made many adult friends when he was raving on his father’s shoulders to Leftfield. I also took him to watch some more varied acts including the wonderful Anna Meredith. He was happy to run around chasing a balloon whilst I took in the auditory soundscape.
There was a good range of food stalls, including an incredible looking g’Astronomy area. Children’s meals were about the £7 mark. There were several options including pizzas, chicken, noodles, burgers and paella. I would have liked to be able to buy something a little healthier for my son and was unsure whether we were allowed to access the nice looking Jodrell Bank café as there were security outside.
A beautiful array of tea and cakes were served from a little pink caravan, which was very popular.
Drinks were reasonably priced at £4.50 a pint and had some interesting options including a wine bar, Blue Moon craft beer and cocktails. All glasses and wine carafes were reusable.
Given the tragic recent events in Manchester, there was a visible security presence at Bluedot who did an excellent job of checking people’s bags before entering the festival and each time they entered the main arena. They did this in a light hearted way and always said hello and spoke to the revellers as they came in. We asked what they looking for and they said glass bottles and alcohol.
Camping chairs were also not permitted which seemed to lead to a trend for inflatable sofas. Of course my son wanted one after seeing everybody else’s and it worked very well- it was lightweight, easy to carry around and enabled us to create a safe, highly visible space for him to rest without having a cart around a festival wagon.
The toilets were clean and well maintained, although there could have been a few more of them I think! Disabled access around the site was excellent as the site is used throughout the year as a visitor’s centre. So there were flat, concrete paths around the site which were then extended to reach the Accessible Camping area.
Flushing toilets, hot showers and plug sockets were available if you paid an extra £30 for club class. These were situated in the main camping area. There were separate camping areas for family camping, early risers and late night owls. All of which were at most a 10 minute walk into the main arena so it was easy to pop back to your tent for a rest and to get changed for the evening.
There were several options available, ranging from pre-erected tents from Tangerine fields (both 2 man and 4 man tents) to beautiful lotus bell tents.
Bluedot is an absolutely wonderful, inspiring and uplifting experience for children and grown-ups of all ages. I would say that my seven year old son was a perfect age to enjoy the activities and I’m less sure whether this would appeal to teens unless of course they are interested in science. This could be a challenge for bluedot to consider for next year. Perhaps they could come up with some teen friendly programming/ DJing/ digital music creation workshops.
I am so glad that we had the opportunity to try this festival as it was different to other festivals that we have been to. It wasn’t a child-oriented festival yet was wonderful for children. We would definitely go again and encourage all of our friends to join us with their families. I have been to a lot of festivals in my time and this will stand out as one of the best experiences we have ever had. Bluedot will remain in our hearts and memories for a long time! My son’s words were, “it was the best festival I have ever ever been to”.